Philadelphia Inquirer Shines Light On Dangers Of Forced Concealed Carry Reciprocity

October 03, 2011 3:16 pm ET — Chris Brown

Sen. ThuneThe National Rifle Association (NRA) has a vision and matching congressional legislation for America: A person with a permit to carry a concealed gun anywhere can carry almost everywhere through universal reciprocity imposed by the federal government. Given that some states already issue permits to non-residents, local communities would be robbed of their ability to set standards for not only visitors, but also their own citizens.

What would the NRA-backed National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act mean for communities fighting gun violence? An article published yesterday by the Philadelphia Inquirer sheds light on what a reciprocity agreement between Pennsylvania and Florida has meant for Philadelphia.

Both Pennsylvania and Florida issue permits to carry concealed guns, but they use different standards to determine who gets accepted. For instance, the city of Philadelphia issued nearly 4,400 permits to carry concealed guns last year alone, accepting 85 percent of the applications submitted. In Florida, only 1 percent of applications are rejected.

The Philadelphia Inquirer shows how this has played out:

Like 900 other Philadelphians - a number that has skyrocketed in recent years - [Rafiq] Williams easily circumvented the local licensing process by obtaining a mail-order gun permit from Florida, where the rules are less stringent.

And because Pennsylvania and Florida have a reciprocal agreement to respect each other's gun licenses, local police are compelled to honor his permit, despite their opposition. [...]

Increasingly, Philadelphia police are discovering suspects arrested here have Florida concealed-weapons permits.

That's because most of the gun permits are going to the city's higher-crime areas, with concentrations in Olney and West Philadelphia.

This trend runs counter to what public health research has been saying works to fight crime — targeting illegal gun carriers and illegal possession. As Daniel Webster, co-director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The New York Times:

Finally, laws prohibiting gun-carrying are an important tool for police to use to suppress the practice in so-called hot spots for shootings. Police units focused on deterring illegal gun-carrying have been the most consistently effective approach to reducing gun violence. Permissive right-to-carry laws could make it harder for police to use this law to deter gun violence.

Rather than enabling police to target people violating gun laws, Philadelphia police report the reciprocity agreement can cause difficulties verifying if permits are legal.

The Philadelphia Inquirer also profiled a series of cases in which Philadelphia's permitting system was bypassed:

[Earl] Page caught a .45-caliber slug in the back and collapsed; his friend died of a bullet in his brain. At first, Page, who was just 14, told detectives from his hospital bed that he didn't see his assailant - "I'm worried about my family," he later admitted.

But at an August 1999 preliminary hearing in the case, Page testified that as he was "laying on the sidewalk," he saw his assailant - Rafiq Williams, a gun in each hand, "still shooting." At the trial, Page reverted to his original account, the jury hung, and at a retrial, Williams was acquitted. [...]

[Marque] Hill, who had a previous attempted-murder charge dismissed, was denied a permit in Philadelphia in 2008.

When Hill lost his appeal after a hearing in the Criminal Justice Center, he became agitated, witnesses said.

They said he immediately began cursing in the hearing room and was ordered to leave. In the hallway outside, he struggled with police and was charged with felony assault for allegedly hitting an officer. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, and other charges were dropped.

Still, he had no felony convictions, and in 2009 he got the permit from Florida.

Nine months later, he was charged with the murder of 18-year-old Irving Santana, one of three teenagers who tried to break into Hill's car when it was parked in Olney. [...]

Another Florida permit-holder in Philadelphia, Shykeem Leslie, was viewed by police as a midlevel drug dealer, constantly hustling dope and involved in violent crimes.

Before Leslie got his Florida license in January 2009, he had been arrested in three separate felony cases, involving charges of robbery, drug dealing, and aggravated assault. All those cases were dismissed.

In December 2009, Leslie was arrested twice on drug charges in North Philadelphia.

During one of the arrests, police discovered a secret compartment in the console of his car, between the front seats. Hidden there was $3,650 in cash and 100 packets of drugs. [Leslie was shot and killed before his trial]

In 2007, the Florida Sun Sentinel found that "more than 1,700 people obtained or kept legal licenses [from Florida] to carry guns despite criminal histories, arrest warrants, domestic violence injunctions and misdemeanor convictions for gun-related crimes."  

The National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011 is sponsored by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) and Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC), and equivalent Senate legislation is expected to be introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) through an amendment to a major bill, as he has done in past years.